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Tunisia: A country in transition with hope and challenges, says UN expert

TUNIS (19 April 2018) - Tunisia has continued to make progress on democracy since the revolution more than seven years ago, including a Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights for all Tunisians, but there is still a lot to do, says a UN human rights expert.

“Tunisia still faces numerous challenges, including setting up key institutions required by the Constitution, such as the Constitutional Court, and aligning a number of overly-restrictive laws with the democratic and human rights standards proclaimed by the new Constitution,” says the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed.

In a statement at the end of a country visit, the expert said: “The country’s new constitution enacted in 2014 is very progressive, and could be a model or source of inspiration for the entire region, guaranteeing every citizen freedom of conscience and belief, and the freedom to peacefully exercise one’s religious practices.”

Mr Shaheed also identified several challenges facing the country. “The road ahead remains a rocky one, with the multi-faceted challenges of combating violent extremism, ensuring sustained economic development, consolidating democratic institutions, promoting the rule of law, and transforming societal attitudes by fostering pluralism and inclusion,” stressed the expert.

He observed that the Constitution requires that the Head of State be a Muslim and that the State is required to be the “guardian of religion” and to undertake to “protect the sacred”.

“This could be a source of numerous problems, if this provision is interpreted as an obligation upon the state to protect religion per se rather than individuals,” said the Special Rapporteur.

The expert welcomed the provisions in the 2014 Constitution for a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) and a draft bill to ensure that the current NHRI becomes fully compliant with the international Paris Principles.

He also hailed the appointment of a Commission, established by the Tunisian President, to report on establishing equality with regard to inheritance and child custody saying: “These are very progressive measures that demonstrate a deep commitment to a civil state with equality for all.”

Mr. Shaheed also considered the human rights situation of women in Tunisia during his visit. He said: “Women have generally succeeded in securing far more equitable laws than in many of Tunisia’s neighbours, and are likely to make even greater progress in gender equality.”

The expert, who visited the country at the invitation of the Government of Tunisia, met with Government officials, including the Prime Minister. He also had meetings with civil society organizations, members of various religious or belief groups, academics and UN Agencies. A final report on the main findings of his visit and the key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.


Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights - country page: Tunisia

For more information and media requests:
In Tunisia (during the visit): Ms. Issaaf Ben Khalifa (+216 98 745 085 / ibenkhalifa@ohchr.org)

In Geneva (after the visit): Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org)  

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.